Blunkett chips away at school menus

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David Blunkett yesterday revealed his long-cherished plan to introduce mandatory nutritional standards for schools meals and then went off to meet children who eat chips with everything.

The Secretary of State for Education outlined his plans for "well-balanced meals" at the opening session of the Unison public service union annual conference in Brighton, and then encountered the reality of children's' diets when he went for lunch at Blatchington Mill comprehensive school at nearby Hove.

Mr Blunkett, a Unison member, said he was not declaring war on chips - one of his sons was a "chip fanatic" - but on constant junk food.

He told 2,500 Unison delegates: "For nearly 18 years we have seen the quality of school dinners deteriorate and the number of children eating them drop significantly. Yet a balanced diet is crucial to their health and wellbeing. If you are hungry and have a poor diet it is difficult to concentrate and to learn effectively." Mr Blunkett said last year only 43 per cent of children took school meals compared with 64 per cent in 1979. "For some, a school dinner is the only real meal a child gets in the day. It needs to be a decent meal, not junk."

"I do not want to declare war on chips, but on average our school children eat chips three times a week and we need to make sure that alternatives are also made attractive."

During the visit to the 1,500-pupil Blatchington Mill School, headteacher Neil Hunter was asked about his pupils' preferences. "Chips are very popular," he replied. "It would be wrong of me to say anything else - oh yes, and sticky buns."

The Education Secretary said he had learnt his radicalism in his own school canteen. "We had sausages three times a week, while the headteacher tucked into steak. It was my first introduction to a socialist cause."